Built on Facts

David Foster Wallace

One of my favorite writers, the extraordinary David Foster Wallace, is dead after ending his own life. He was 46.

My first exposure to his work was his beautiful mathematics book Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity. He brought his extraordinary skill as a narrative fiction writer to the story of the development of the mathematical concept of infinity, and doing so in a way that does not fall victim to the excessive simplification that plagues so much of science writing. It’s equally engaging for the mathematically naive and the mathematically sophisticated, with one or two minor technical quibbles.

Of course that wasn’t his best known work, with his fiction taking center stage for most of his fans. But as an undergraduate, Everything and More opened the door to infinity to me, and I’ll always be thankful for the view.

His loss is a sad reminder that of the unnecessary tragedy and loss of suicide. I sincerely ask that any reader who ever might feel that life is not worth living to seek help and encouragement. Life is not always happy, but it’s worth pressing on through the hard times into the better times. Never give up.

Rest in peace.


  1. #1 Sven DiMilo
    September 14, 2008

    I’m floored. Finally got around to Infinite Jest this summer and it rocketed to my top 5…was looking forward to lots more good stuff from the hyper-talented Wallace.
    What a bummer.

  2. #2 Vernon Balbert
    September 14, 2008

    This is indeed a tragic event. I’ve never read his stuff, but maybe I will check out some from the library.

    It may be somewhat callous to speak of things like this at a time like this, but it’s my feeling that suicide is probably the single most selfish thing anyone can do. The wreckage that’s left over for other people to deal with is incredibly difficult to handle. Thoughts such as, “Did I do something wrong?” surface in those close to the person. Not only that, but you’ve just taken an irreplaceable thing away from those that love you.

    Being someone who suffers from severe depression, I understand some of the motives that may cause suicide. Aside from cultural suicides (such as doing it to save face in Japan) there is usually some emotional problem happening and suicide is considered to be a viable escape from the pain of emotional suffering. It’s sad when the person who does this does not let slip the symptoms of what is driving him to suicide or that those around him do not recognize the signs.

    It is tragic on so many levels. My heart goes out to Mr. Wallace’s family.

  3. #3 mezzobuff
    September 23, 2008

    Just got around to reading the DFW posts on SB after spending the week reading remembrances, posts and writings throughout the web. I will say: DFW had been suffering from serious depression for more than 30 years, had undergone various therapies that included hospitalization, prescription drugs and ECT. None of them seemed to work for him. I am not sure I would describe his suicide as an act of selfishness as much as one of a man who was simply tired of the mental pain that he was going through. He did “soldier on” in spite if the inadequacies of his various therapies for quite some time and I wish him peace now, as it seems he never really had it while he was alive.
    I found an early writing in which he describes his struggle with depression at a young age enlightening if not horribly sad: it was published in the Amherst Review.

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